CDC Holds First Public Hearing on Opioid Guidelines

By Pat Anson, Editor

After months of controversy over its guidelines for opioid prescribing, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) held its first true public hearing today on the proposed guidelines – which many pain patients fear will make opioid pain medication much harder for them to obtain.

The CDC planned to implement the guidelines this month with little public input, but was forced to change course after widespread criticism about its secrecy and lack of transparency during the drafting of the guidelines, which would discourage primary care physicians from prescribing opioids for chronic pain. As many as 11 million Americans use opioids for long-term chronic pain.

“We have heard some concerns about the process. We’ve done a lot, but want to be sure there will be no concern about the final guidelines when released,” said Debra Houry, MD, director of the CDC's National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, which is overseeing development of the guidelines.

“As a part of our response, we are proposing the establishment of a workgroup under the BSC (Board of Scientific Counselors) to review the guidelines and the feedback we have received from stakeholders, peer reviewers, and importantly the public. We want to ensure that this workgroup includes diverse perspectives of experts, stakeholders and consumers invested in reversing this epidemic, while cognizant of the need for safe and effective pain management.”

The CDC nominated a workgroup of ten health care experts to review the guidelines and advise its Board of Scientific Counselors, most of whom have expertise in workplace injuries, but little experience in pain management. Unlike a previous workgroup known as the “Core Expert Group,” the new workgroup has broader experience in pain management, pharmacy, primary care practice and patient advocacy:

Krebs and Porucznik were members of the original Core Expert Group, while Cowan and Terman were part of a "Stakeholder Review Group" that also advised the CDC.

The BSC approved the CDC's nominees with little discussion, although it encouraged the workgroup to add additional members, if needed. Only one member of the BSC voted against the nominations.

No members of Physicians for Responsible Prescribing (PROP) were nominated by the CDC to be part of the new workgroup. As Pain News Network has reported, five PROP board members advised the CDC during the initial drafting of the guidelines. PROP is funded by Phoenix House, which runs a chain of addiction treatment centers, and critics had complained the PROP members were biased and had conflicts of interest against the use of opioids.

Several pain patients said they wanted to see more patients in the workgroup. Penney Cowan of the American Chronic Pain Association was the only one nominated by the CDC.

“I want this panel and this group to have patients. You need to hear our side,” said Diane Gracely, who said she has been a chronic pain patient for 46 years. “The goal of the CDC is to reverse the prescription drug epidemic. I think this is inhumane to us chronic pain patients. The voices of chronic pain patients need to be heard by the CDC and the DEA. We need you to listen to us. You’re pushing more patients to the street for drugs and causing more suicides.”

The new workgroup is expected to meet at least four times to review the guidelines, a process that could delay finalizing the guidelines for several months.

“The guidelines will be an important and essential step in reversing the prescription drug epidemic, said Houry. “Given the lives lost and impacted every day, we have an acute sense of urgency to issue guidance quickly.”

That urgency was also stressed by CDC director Thomas Frieden, MD, who spoke briefly by telephone during the hearing.

“We know we don’t have ideal evidence, but we also know that we can’t wait,” said Frieden, who claimed prescription opioids were “fueling an increase in heroin use” and that their benefits were “largely unproven and uncertain.”

“Addressing the prescription drug overdose epidemic is one of CDC’s top priorities. Overprescription of opiates for pain is the key driver of this epidemic and we believe the epidemic can be reversed. Key areas will be to improve prescribing for both pain and for addiction. There are definite, often fatal risks, including both addiction and death with prescription opiates.”

The public can still comment on the CDC's prescribing guideline until January 13th. You can make a comment online by clicking here

The draft guidelines and the reasoning behind them can be found in a 56-page report you can see by clicking here.